Do it Yourself – Home Energy Audit: Part Two

In our article, “Do it Yourself – Home Energy Audit: Part One,” we discussed relatively simple, low-cost steps you can take to improve your home’s energy efficiency and comfort. These steps included replacing incandescent light bulbs with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and managing your thermostat. You may, however, want to tackle larger projects for greater savings.

We went back to our building science specialists and came up with the following more advanced projects you can complete on your own or with the help of a contractor.

1) Tune your HVAC unit. Your heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system uses a lot of energy and contributes to the air quality and comfort in your home. Having it tuned by a contractor each year or so can ensure that it is working effectively, safely and efficiently. Some of the steps a contractor will take include inspecting electrical connections, evaluating exhaust outlets, and checking and refilling the refrigerant charge.

2) Air seal holes and cracks. Air sealing holes and cracks can prevent outside air from entering your home and heated and cooled air from leaving it. Check your exterior doors and attic access points to make sure weatherstripping is intact and working properly. Cobwebs and pest droppings can signal areas that may need help. Additionally, inspect attics and crawl spaces for holes and chases that can be capped and sealed. Having an open chase in an attic is similar to having a window open year-round. It can be capped with plywood and sealed with caulk or spray foam.

3) Check insulation. Adequate insulation helps regulate heat flow in your home. If you have a crawl space or an open attic, check the insulation at the floor and ceiling. If you notice falling insulation in the crawl space or bare spots or thin insulation in the attic, it will pay to adjust it or add more. Be sure to check that the total insulation depth meets local building code. Air sealing before insulating your attic can optimize performance and help to improve comfort and save money.

4) Repair ducts. Leaky ducts can lead to inefficient airflow of conditioned air, making your HVAC system have to work harder to provide the comfort you desire. In all, 20 to 30 percent of the air moving through your house may be lost because of leaks and holes in the ductwork. Sealing ducts, with mastic sealant, for example, can make sure your air goes where it is meant to in an efficient manner.

5) Modify windows. Adding solar screens, window film or storm windows can reduce the amount of heat entering or leaving your home and therefore lower the workload of your HVAC unit. Solar screens are usually made from window screen mesh and are attached to the outside of your existing windows, storm windows are another type of investment that can be used either inside or outside, and window film is typically installed on the inside of windows on sunny sides of the home.

6) Upgrade water heater. When purchasing a new electric water heater, consider investing in a heat pump system. Compared to electric storage tank water heaters, heat pump water heaters can be two to three times more energy efficient. They work by using electricity to transfer heat from the surrounding air to the water, rather than generating heat directly. Although these systems can cost more upfront, they are cheaper to operate over their life spans.

These next-level projects generally require more time, money and effort, but they can go a long way toward improving your home’s energy efficiency and comfort. The upgrades discussed in this article are certainly not exhaustive, and the image below from the Jacksonville Electric Authority contains additional measures you can pursue. They are organized by expected return on investment and contractor involvement.

If you are feeling more ambitious, an additional consideration is whether to group improvement projects together. Certain measures can be completed at the same time or in a step-by-step manner and lead to even greater benefits. A contractor can work with you to decide what approach is best for you and your home.

The measures described here and in our prior article are good places to start if you’re seeking to improve your home’s comfort and energy efficiency. Your local government and utility may even offer financial incentives to help lower the costs. If you are unsure about what measures make the most sense, be sure to consult with a contractor to point you in the right direction. Although upgrading your home can seem like a daunting task, there are many steps you can take that aren’t overwhelming and can lead to a large amount of savings.